Small Form Factor Reviewing Methodology

The first topic that we want to address is how we conduct our SFF reviews. You may want to refer back to our 478/754 roundup for more detail, but we've updated our testing methodology a bit. We feel that the SFF market is something of an exclusive market, very similar in some ways to the Apple market. People are willing to pay a bit more for the overall design and aesthetic value of a SFF system. Anyone can put parts into a large ATX case, and many of us do just that. However, some people would prefer a case that is more attractive to look at and less intrusive in the audio spectrum. What we have come up with is a list of items to look at in our SFF reviews, ranked roughly in order of decreasing importance.
  1. Aesthetic value
  2. Noise levels
  3. Features
  4. Construction, durability, and portability
  5. Performance
  6. Expandability
  7. Ease of use (i.e. upgrading)
Many people will feel that our ranking of importance is slightly off, and we want to make it clear that this is not intended as a concrete list. Some of the areas are basically a tie in importance, like the top three. A SFF design that decides to focus on increased performance and expandability is certainly a possibility, and we will take that into account.

It is of course possible to build your own system that is still silent and attractive without resorting to the SFF market. Different power supplies, fans, cases, etc. can help reduce noise levels, but all of that requires a decent amount of effort. By the time that you get a quiet desktop system, the difference in cost between it and a SFF is often relatively small. Appearance is something that is difficult to judge, as what one person likes may be entirely different than what others like. We'll provide our own opinions on the outward appearance of the models, but look at the images and judge for yourselves. What remains is a difference in expandability and size, two items that go hand in hand.

Due to the complexity of reviewing a SFF system, this is going to be a long article. It's really separate, condensed reviews of the five systems followed by some benchmarks comparing and contrasting them. So, grab yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and sit back for a long read if you have the time. Otherwise, skip forward to page 13 and get straight to the benchmarks, then go back and read the detailed reviews of the systems that you actually think sound interesting.

Index Shuttle SN25P
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    So I spoke too soon. After finishing this article, I just happend to come across">the new Aopen 939 SFF. That actually looks pretty promising, though the IGP isn't going to beat the ST20G5 that I can see (no DVI port). Time to put in a request for that unit....
  • rqle - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    Price of these SFF are getting quite pricey lately. So much to the point when you add the cpu, hard drive, memory, video card, optical drive AND LCD it will comes very close to the price of a good high end laptop on a good day. Dell 17inch 9300 w/6800 on a VERY good sale day comes just over the price of these SFF 'system.' Big fan of these SFF, but prices should be a little bit more reasonable for me to buy again.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I agree with you on a lot of that, but a SFF with a 19" (or larger) LCD and a 6800GT/X800XL is pretty much going to stomp all over any similarly priced laptop. There's basically a $150 price premium to get a high-end SFF case, which is going to prevent many from buying. Still, some people buy $200 cases just because they look nice, so it's all a matter of taste.

    If you need portability, though, there are very few options other than getting a laptop. Personally, laptops and gaming are something I just don't care about. I'd get a cheap laptop for the office work I do and then keep a second system at home for any gaming. Some of course feel otherwise, but laptop keyboards and such just don't do it for me.
  • R3MF - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    love it.
  • BigT383 - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I have a first-generation SN95G5. I bought it thinking that since it's socket 939 I'd be able to upgrade to dual-core when it came out.

    Apparently this isn't the case, but I haven't seen anybody say they've tried it yet- so far there seem to be only rumors.

    So I know this is a weird request but what I'd like to see right now is an article testing a CPU like the Athlon X2 4400+ on the three different versions of the SN95G5.

    I can understand that X2s need a bios update, but the physical motherboard shouldn't be holding me back, right?
  • dcuccia - Thursday, August 18, 2005 - link

    X2 support for the SN25P w/o USB2 issues is now available through a BIOS upgrade:">

  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 18, 2005 - link

    Thanks, I made a quick comment on the SN25P page to mention this.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I'm going to be dropping an X2 3800+ into the SN95G5v2 just to see what happens. I'll try to get some official word from Shuttle on the matter as well. I really have no idea what the SN95G5v1 will support. I think the main change between it and v2 was a switch from an 80mm fan to a 92mm fan.
  • Zirconium - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I love the roundup articles. I find them to be the most useful because they allow you to hone in on what you are looking for quickly, and then you can go to other sites and check the reviews that are solely for the products you are looking for.

    That said, one thing I'm interested is the quality of the integrated graphics on these computers. I have an SK41G and I could tell the difference between the quality of the built-in graphics and the AIW Radeon 7500 that is currently in it. When the integrated graphics were hooked up to a TV (I tried two) you could notice bands moving up the TV.

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